OSBC director: Can Microsoft become one of the OSS guys?

There is no doubt that the influence of open source has increased significantly, but is it enough to get Microsoft into the fold? OSBC director Matt Asay weighs in as part of this exclusive interview.

As part of what has become a tradition at SearchOpenSource.com, Open Source Business Conference director Matt Asay sat down for an update on what to expect in open source.

In this interview, Asay contends that Microsoft has been missing out on a huge opportunity with open source, but it is beginning to show some promise.

Whether Microsoft can become one of the guys remains to be seen, but if Asay is correct about OSS being on the cusp of core enterprise adoption, it will be an interesting year for open source.

Will there be a rise in OSS/Microsoft interoperability this year?

Matt Asay: For every OSS project except Linux, the vast majority of the trials happen on Windows. A lot of this is because that is what people have on their desktops. They want to try SugarCRM and [Windows is] what is there.

I think if Microsoft is smart they will continue to partner with vendors like JBoss, talk with Alfresco [Software Inc.] and others about testing in Windows environments. Recently they said that in their Linux lab they were looking to integrate and host more open source projects rather than side against them.

I have been saying for the past year that Microsoft was missing a huge opportunity by pushing over open source prospects. With the Windows franchise, there is no reason why they should not be platform of choice, rather than people going straight to Linux.

Must see sessions at OSBC San Francisco

Marketing to Dilbert: A session on marketing in the open source world covers something that everyone will now have to do. There are very few people who know how to market open source to developers and IT buyers about the value of open source.

Malignant, Benign or Beneficial? The effects of commercialization on open source production: This session focuses on whether the commercializing of open source is hindering or hurting the technology.

What's Starting track: An all-day track where attendees can demo technologies from today's open source startups -- most of which will be seen at OSBC for the first time.

-Matt Asay, OSBC director

Microsoft is again represented as an Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) participant. How does it fit into an open source conference?

Asay: Microsoft has always been involved in OSBC as a point/counterpoint component because an open source conference where everyone loves one other is not very useful.

I was at a conference recently with Sam Ramji of the Microsoft Emerging Business Team, and it was hard to distinguish him from the rest of the open source guys in the room. He was saying the same sorts of things, but obviously with a different mindset of what conducting business with open source meant to his company.

I might be naÏve on Microsoft -- there are pockets within it that are as belligerently against open source as they ever were -- but a majority of people there have a fairly nuanced view of open source. Microsoft is not always right with its perspective of software, but if the open source community tried to wall itself off and be the pizza-eating late night developers club, it could only have so much relevance.

Will there be a rise in the number of vendors selling tools for mixed Linux and Windows environments?

Asay: I do think there will be a greater number of open source companies -- like SugarCRM [Inc.], GroundWork [Open Source Solutions Inc.] and Centeris [Corp.] -- that will begin catering to the Windows platform. The process used to be to develop for Linux first and make a statement that the software was open source, but today when a vendor like Alfresco puts out the installer, the BitRock version will have Windows support first for at least a week or so before a Linux one arrives. There will be more emphasis on mixed environments, where open source companies support Windows not as a second class citizen but as an equal to Linux.

What can we expect to see at startup and project stages in 2006?

Asay: I finally think we are on the cusp of a mission critical, widely adopted enterprise open source application. Another great thing I see is that companies -- like LucidEra [Inc.] -- applying to be part of the OSBC showcase have never been heard of before. A year ago I could say I knew every single company that was coming to the conference.

Also, more and more open source applications will be developed for every layer of the software stack by much better companies. Enterprises will think of open source as their primary way of doing business. Right now it is still nipping at the heels of traditional software, but soon companies will have to have a pretty darn good reason why they are not doing business in an open source fashion.

There is a 'what's legal' theme at OSBC. Is GPLv3 [General Public License, version 3] headed in the right direction? What are your thought on its stance with DRM?

Asay: It is still a little early to say definitively, but [the GPL] is generally going in the right direction. You almost wonder if we are making too much of this, but I do trust that the attorneys have the best intentions of the community at heart.

For more on the OSBC and open source:

Read our special report on OSBC 2005

OSBC director: Linux, OSS profitable, stable and on the minds of CIOs

Open source pitchmen face tough sell at OSBC

I think [DRM] is like red meat to the wolves but I don't say that in the pejorative sense. It is a great headline but there are valid reasons for DRM. You have to feel for companies that try to make people pay for things they should be paying for anyway. Maybe the problem is that DRM has been implemented incorrectly.

On a side note, I don't see DRM using open source, but I do see Red Hat closing off access to their binaries through contracts, and I see SugarCRM and Alfresco closing off parts of code using copyrights. It is not enough to say you don't intend to close off bits and just charge for support. Paying for support is a very weak business model, and I can't point to any company that has been able to build a scalable business on it.

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